If hunting is such a core 'Montana value,' how come most Montanans don't hunt? 

Late last month, Montana got some ground-quaking, earth-shattering, stop-the-presses news: Rob Quist, that folksy Democrat in the cowboy hat running for Congress, hasn't had a state hunting license in at least 16 years. Lordy be, cried the state's entire voter base in unison. How can he serve if he doesn't share our values? He's not a real Montanan!

OK, maybe it wasn't the entire voter base. (Maybe Greg Gianforte has otherworldly ventriloquistic powers.) Either way, Quist's status as a self-proclaimed "native son" was suddenly up for debate, not because of where he was born, but because of what he chooses to do recreationally. That information was apparently important enough to reiterate in a later story about how Gianforte illegally shot an elk in 2000.

Voters probably should have seen this devolution to firearm jingoism coming—by the time both candidates started shooting stuff on TV it was more than clear that neither campaign was going to address itself to substantive issues. Instead we get round after round of you-ain't-like-us fearmongering and outsider demonization. Can you really call yourself a denizen of Big Sky Country if you don't wear a cowboy hat, or spend your weekends blasting prairie dogs? Is hunting, or even gun ownership, a prerequisite in running for office?

If so, that rules out a good portion of the candidate pool. According to data from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, only 59,800 people purchased a general adult elk license for the 2015 hunting season. Significantly more (76,485) ponied up for a general deer license. But even combined, that's a fraction of Montana's population. When did they become exclusively representative of "Montana values"? Considering that more than 135,700 people put in for a resident fishing license that year, maybe we should insist that our candidates kill—or at least catch—fish.

A few years back, the New York Times mined census microdata and came up with some interesting stats about Montana. Of the roughly one million people living in the state in 2012, only 54 percent were born here—Montana's lowest native residency rate since the 1940s. Of those who came here from other places, 6 percent hailed from California, 4 percent from Washington, and 10 percent from other Western states. Can that half of the state lay claim to "Montana values"?

Hell if we know. Half our newsroom is transplanted from other (and frankly lesser) states, though we're certainly proud to be here now. And we vote. Is it too much to ask that this race focus less on ways to divide and exclude our neighbors and just a little bit more on the issues that we share? Apparently so.

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